10/27/2008 11:00PM

Nip in the air as racing shifts to Aqueduct


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - According to weather.com, the forecast in the New York metropolitan area at noon Wednesday calls for a temperature of 44 degrees, a wind chill of 36 and a chance of showers. What an appropriate backdrop for this circuit's return to Aqueduct.

While hopes that 4,500 video-lottery terminals - to be operated by Delaware North perhaps by the fourth-quarter of 2009 - turn Aqueduct into a destination spot, Aqueduct still remains a factory-like setting under which to conduct racing. The good news for the loyal patrons who show up is that admission and parking will be free. (There will be a $3 charge for valet parking).

The bad news for horsemen is a 10-percent purse cut, necessitated by double-digit declines in business at Saratoga and Belmont, putting purse levels back to where they were in January 2007.

For the next five weeks, racing will be conducted on Aqueduct's fragile main track - which over the years has become increasingly vulnerable under adverse weather conditions - before moving to the winterized inner track for four months beginning Dec. 3.

The move to Aqueduct coincides with the return to a 12:30 p.m. post.

Ten graded stakes will be run during the main-track portion of the meet, highlighted by the Grade 1, $350,000 Cigar Mile on Nov. 29. That card also includes the Grade 2 Remsen for juvenile colts and Grade 2 Demoiselle for juvenile fillies.

For years, the Discovery Handicap for 3-year-olds was the opening-day feature at Aqueduct. Last year, the Discovery was run on the same day as the Cigar Mile and this year it will be run on Nov. 22.

Wednesday's opening-day feature is the $65,000 Best of Luck Stakes for 3-year-olds, which serves as a prep for the Grade 3, $100,000 Discovery. The Best of Luck is run at 1 1/8 miles, same as the Discovery.

A field of five was entered in the Best of Luck, led by Tin Cup Chalice, the New York-bred gelded son of Crusader Sword who has won 8 of 9 career starts, including a sweep of the Big Apple Triple that earned his connections a $250,000 bonus.

Tin Cup Chalice comes off a win in the Grade 2, $500,000 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park on Oct. 4, a race in which he led from start to finish. If he employs those same tactics Wednesday, he could find company in the form of Storm Play, a Jimmy Jerkens-trained colt who set very quick factions winning a first-level allowance race at Belmont on Sept. 20.

"If somebody pushes the pace we'll sit behind them if we have to," said trainer and part-owner Michael Lecesse, who thought Tin Cup Chalice was going to sit off a speed horse in Indiana until that horse blew the first turn. "I don't have a problem with this horse sitting behind horses at all."

Lecesse said what Tin Cup Chalice does on Wednesday could determine whether he runs in the Discovery or the Cigar Mile one week later.

Storm Play, a son of Smart Strike, has looked very solid winning his first two starts. He could simply be faster than Tin Cup Chalice early.

Or, if he and Tin Cup Chalice duel, it could set things up nicely for National Pride, a winner of 3 of 4 career starts, including his last two allowance wins against older horses.

In his most recent allowance wins, National Pride defeated On Board Again and Goldsville, both of whom are in a second-level allowance race Wednesday that goes as race 8.

Also entered in the Best of Luck are Web Gem and Famous Patriot.